Volvo Trucks showcased a line of six European electric trucks at the IAA Transportation trade show in Hannover, Germany, as well as a new electric axle that will eventually be available in North America. We met with Jessica Sandström, senior vice-president – product management and sustainability, to talk about Volvo’s vision, sustainability, and green transportation.
TruckNews.com – Volvo Trucks is constantly working on different electrification projects, either the battery-electric or fuel cell for hydrogen electrification. What projects are you are currently working on in that field?
Jessica Sandstrom – Our focus is to reach our long-term strategy to be zero emission. And to be able to do that we work with three paths in parallel. It means that to continue to evolve our battery-electric trucks, we are working with our first introduction of our fuel-cell-electric truck, and we continue to work to make the combustion engine more efficient to have the capability of running on different fuels. It could be bioenergy, it could be hydrotreated vegetable oil, but it could be also hydrogen directly from a combustion engine. So, we are actually working on all these in parallel because that is the challenge and the beauty of the transformation that we are in.
TN – In North America, we know about the LIGHTS project that Volvo led in California. Is Volvo more focused on battery-electric right now?
JS – We have six models of battery-electric trucks in serial production. We believe we are the brand with the widest offering in the market. So, we started early, with the first serial production in 2019 with the introduction of the FL, then we added the VNR in 2020. It will continue to evolve. This is the first generation of battery-electric heavy-duty trucks, and we are already working on the next generation with the electric axle that we introduced at IAA in order to be able to increase the driving range even further.
Batteries have been something we have worked with for many years. We started back in 2009 with our first hybrid buses — that actually was the starting point for us. It was the first time we brought in batteries to our vehicles, in buses. That set the base for the knowledge building in the group.
When we talk about fuel cell, it has also been in the research arena for a very long time. But now as you know with cellcentric, we want to make sure together with Daimler that we take the lead to industrialize the solution. It will industrialize in serial production in the second half of the decade, that is the message we are giving, but also yesterday we revealed the selected customers we start to do the testing with in 2025.
But, of course, we are much more advanced when it comes to the battery-electric trucks, they are already in production.
If we look out from a global perspective, we believe that the majority of the trucks be battery-electric and fuel cell will be a complement. They will be used for heavy transport and longer driving distances. There could also be some applications where you don’t have time to do the charging, or you don’t have access to electric charging, then hydrogen and fuel cell could be a very good option.
TN – How do you see the development of the battery?
JS – If we look at what we have been through the last 10 years, if you take a step back and really look at the evolution of the batteries that we have seen over this time period, I think we are already in a revolution. Now we can do 300 km on one charge with a 44-ton heavy truck, in the U.S. we can do even 440 km. Ten years ago we couldn’t have dreamt that being possible. And there are still many steps ahead of us.
TN – Some people say that the battery is a transition technology and that we could even move directly from diesel to hydrogen. What do you tell those people?
JS – We do not think like that. We think that the battery solution is the best for many applications, even when the hydrogen trucks are there.
TN – Even if the carbon footprint of the battery is debated? Some people argue that, from well to wheel, battery is not such a good solution.
JS – It’s important not to compare with passenger cars. Trucks do a lot of mileage and that helps us to gain back the CO2 that you get from the production of the battery. With every kilometer that you drive with an electric truck, you have zero CO2 emissions. If you run on green electricity, then its climate impact will be less than the diesel truck after just one year. A couple of weeks ago we also announced that we will have a battery plant in Sweden, then we will build the battery cell with green electricity.
TR – Are there government incentives to buy an electric truck in Europe?
JS – Yes, especially in Germany where you get 80% of the difference between an electric and a diesel truck, and incentives also apply to charging infrastructures. We also have very good incentives in Sweden and in Norway but in some other parts of Europe there is nothing.
It’s not the same picture across Europe. Also, when you start to look at the business case for the customer, it’s also quite different in different countries. Because it depends very much on what is the price for diesel, and what is the price for electricity. Then you have different tax schemes.
TR – You said you will bring your electric axle to North America. Do you have a time frame?
JS – In a couple of years. But you were talking about the lag between when we introduce things in Europe and when we take it to North America. This is starting to change. We see the market evolve much more at the same speed, so now we need to be prepared to take the step more or less simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic. It can also be the other way around.
TN – What is the biggest challenge for you right now in sustainable mobility?
JS – If we, as a society, are going to be able to make the transformation in the speed that we need. Our target is that 50% of everything we sell in 2030 should be zero emission, and this is battery-electric and fuel-cell-electric trucks. Then we must be able to address a lot of the heavy transport across the globe. But we also see that in certain parts of the globe, we need to go far beyond the 50% to be able to have the average of 50%.
For instance, in Europe, we believe that we need to go above 70% of everything we sell in 2030 must be some kind of electric truck. And to reach that we need to have green electricity where the trucks are. So, the grid has to be prepared. We need to have green hydrogen available. It’s not only hydrogen it needs to be green hydrogen if we are really going to make a difference for the planet.
Of course, we can’t do it all by ourselves. We need political decisions and I think they need to take bold decisions. All actors in the market to take action to start to invest, to show it’s possible to make the transformation.
For instance, what we are doing together with Daimler and Traton is that we are going to build 1,700 high-performing public chargers in Europe. And I think that is a good example of us contributing, but of course we need many more if we are going to go to the scale that the planet needs. And I think it’s the same thing for U.S., for Canada, we need to find a common shared view on where the industry is going, so all actors feel confident in the investments.
If we are to address climate change, [we need] these types of unconventional actions. We need to do things that we have never done before, to accommodate the speed of the transformation and be able to make all the investments that are needed for our society, but we also believe it’s the right thing to do for our company.